Apogee Stage & Mini-Grand loudspeakers Page 3

I'm sure that most of you have been in the situation of strolling down a street and catching a puff of music leaking from an open window or doorway. At that moment, have you ever had any trouble instinctively telling the difference between live and canned? I should think not. A piece of cake, right? If you've ever failed this test, do not pass go; proceed directly to jail with a lifetime subscription to Stereo Review. It's not so easy to analyze the factors that contribute to at least the audiophile's ability to so effortlessly make this sort of distinction. A key factor to my mind is that canned music is unable to communicate the dynamics, tension, and drama of live music. The Stage impressed me early on with its abilities in these areas—provided that one is willing to cater to its needs.

I started this catering business with a full complement of absorptive material in the room and with the Stage anchored well away from the front wall. After several tries at different tiltback angles, or what Apogee calls the rake angle, I was still unsatisfied with the resultant balance. Contrary to Apogee's instructions, I also experimented with the toe-in angle; Apogee recommends no toe-in at all. A slight toe-in proved beneficial in providing more upper-midrange energy. But there was still too much bass, and I toyed with the idea of elevating the Stage about 8" off the floor in order to reduce some of the bass energy.

At this point, however, I decided to let matters rest until I could organize my listening room in the service of the Stage and also to await the arrival of Classé Audio electronics and Jason in Santa Fe. Because of Jason's strong recommendation, I had arranged to borrow a pair of DR-8 power amps and a DR-6 preamp, and these were used for most of the listening tests. Also, Jason expressed the desire to assist me in the initial setup. Eventually, the stage was set for the Stage, complete with the energetic Jason Bloom.

Jason in Santa Fe
For the first couple of hours I felt like a queen bee. Here I was sitting passively in the listening seat, with Jason moving energetically around the room tweaking this and that, listening to the results, then tweaking again. The commotion had to do with moving the speakers about and slowly adding more and more absorptive material. He started with no fiberglass panels behind the speakers, but the large bay window behind the speakers caused problems. The imaging refused to gel into a tight spatial focus. A tight central image and precise soundstage localization could not be achieved until much of the rear wall was covered with fiberglass. All I could do was smile internally, nodding my head in approval as the imaging gradually improved to the point of respectability.

The final position for the speakers ended up at 4' from the rear wall, a lateral separation of 70" from inside edge to inside edge, and with no toe-in. With the listening seat about 12' back from the plane of the speakers, the tweeter wasn't really that far off axis. With all of the absorptive material behind the Stage, the balance proved to be more correct with the tweeter control set to High.

The final configuration was clearly unorthodox by Apogee's standards, but I'm sure Jason would argue that the window necessitated the actions taken. Jason proved not only a practicing pragmatist, but also to possess a keen ear. The key during the setup process proved to be lots of patience; odds are the Stage will not work right out of the box. But the patient audiophile will be rewarded with a soundstage that is quite remarkable in some respects.

To fill in the rest of the details, the DR-8s were bridged and operated in a balanced mode, with a 30' run of AudioQuest's Lapis Hyperlitz interconnect back to the preamp. The Stage was bi-wired with Symo speaker cable. This is a relatively inexpensive cable that Apogee imports from Switzerland. It is made available to dealers, but Apogee does not actively promote the product. According to Jason, Symo works very well with the Apogee line; much better, in fact, (he says) than some other highly touted cables. Because I found that hard to believe, and because I just happened to have a modest collection of cables on hand, we decided to conduct a quickie cable evaluation. The results proved to be quite shocking. The Symo worked well, while TARA Labs Space & Time TFA/Return and Temporal Continuum, Cardas Hexlink, and Weber Wire all failed miserably.

The basic problem was that the sound became either steely or bright. J. S. Bach's "Komm, Jesu, Komm" chorale (track 12 of the Fine Arts CD by Grundig, MD&GL 3322) was used heavily during the setup process. With the other cables, the sweetness of the soprano's upper registers evaporated to steeliness. And while the Symo managed to preserve a sense of drama in the mids, the other cables did not. The exhalation of breath by the singers was propelled outward at warp speed by the Symo. The others failed to reproduce the power and majesty of the mids to the same degree.